Friday, December 19, 2014

Bourbon Balls

Bourbon Balls

            My first piece of advice: Don’t make bourbon balls when there is a full moon. A second: sample one of the main ingredients.
            Kim is a great cook (me – not so much). She can pull off the gourmet meals, but what makes her gifted in the kitchen is that she knows how to do all those little things that make the regular dishes special. If you don’t believe me, try her mac and cheese or her venison chili. She especially shines as a baker – her scones, the Texas sheet cake, her pies, and her cookies. (Time out here for a snack.)
            Which is why I was confident that her bourbon balls would turn out great, even though she told me that she had never made them or any candy before. “No problem,” I thought. “It’s Kim!” She knows how to do stuff in the kitchen.
            In retrospect, the problem might have been because I was helping.
            Kim was working from a recipe she’d found in a magazine, but it was vague on some of the details. I offered to google bourbon balls (How will people 20 years ago understand those three words?), figuring that the computer would get me out of the kitchen so I would be less likely to harm the project. I found eight recipes with contradictory ingredients and instructions, so I returned to the kitchen to measure the bourbon and add it to the other ingredients Kim had assembled in a bowl. So far, so good.
            The next step was to roll the mixture of butter, powdered sugar, nuts and bourbon (plus, possibly, other ingredients I wasn’t paying attention to) into balls about the size of a strawberry. Despite the fact that Kim had chilled the stuff in the fridge, it stuck to our hands as we rolled it. Kim’s hands are warmer than mine, so it stuck to hers more. This might have been fun had we been drinking the bourbon, but alas, it all went into the balls. I figured that the sticky-balls problem would be resolved when we baked them in the oven. I mentioned this to Kim, who informed me that of course these were not going to be baked. As I said, I’m kitchen-challenged.
            We eventually assembled them all on a cookie sheet and placed them in the refrigerator to chill. Meanwhile, we addressed the problem of how to melt the chocolate into which we would dip them. Kim’s recipe suggested the microwave, so we put the chocolate chips into a bowl and gave them a quick zap. They came out sorta melted (that’s an official chocolatier term), so we zapped them a little more. No improvement. A little more, and they turned fudge-like with a texture similar to caulk. More computer research revealed that the full moon causes this to happen.
            I went to the store to buy more chocolate chips. I also bought potato chips, as I figured we’d need a salty snack with the bourbon we would be drinking that night. When I got home I retreated to the computer to research how to melt chocolate chips. Skipping the microwave option, I found instructions on using the double-boiler. Unfortunately, I did not read the instructions all the way through.
            The next morning we decided to try the chocolate again. I retrieved my mom’s old copper double-boiler from the back of the cabinet, and Kim heated the new chocolate chips there. More caulk. I read the rest of the instructions and discovered that the pan with the chips in it should not touch the water boiling below it. Kim put in a dab of Crisco, a hint she picked up from our daughter, Genne’. It worked!
            Next challenge: how to get the chocolate onto the bourbon balls. One problem is that the warm chocolate would melt the balls – we’d noticed that they started to collapse when they sat, briefly, at room temperature. We tried dipping them by hand, which led to good finger-licking but otherwise, too messy. A spoon led to a dropped ball. We ended up using toothpicks for most of them, one at a time from fridge to Kim to cookie sheet, then a few more dribbles to cover up gaps caused by Kim’s fingers, then quickly back in the fridge. Success! We decided not to press our luck by putting pecans on top, as some of the recipes suggested.
            Kim later called Genne’ to report on the cooking misadventures. “Not you,” she said. “You’re Martha!” But, of course, we never see Martha Stewart’s husband “helping” in her kitchen.

--David Stringer            

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